Remember the rhyme, “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me”? As a kid, I never could make sense of that saying because being called a name I didn’t like did hurt me. One way of thinking is that this name toughened me up for the big, bad world around me—I was sure to be called even uglier names later in life. However, it still hurt.
In my work as a teacher, I hear dweeb, nerd, geek, freak, pointy-head—names kids use to taunt gifted or smart kids—daily. While most schools have “No Bullying” policies, kids still tease others, and some kids don’t consider name-calling to be bullying. Name-calling might just be characteristic of being human—to separate oneself from and feel superior over others—but it can lead to devastating consequences.
Gifted kids are generally more sensitive—about their own feelings and those of others. If a gifted student hears a cruel taunt, even one that is aimed at someone else, that child is likely to feel a sense of empathy toward the person being targeted.
So what can teachers do to help gifted kids deal with taunts and unflattering names, even if teasing is not happening to them? Here are five ways you can help.
Be a role model.
Gifted kids need to see how others deal with stressful situations. Talk to your students about how you feel and act when you are confronted by people you don’t agree with. Consider role playing how you would respond so your students can see you in action. Seeing how you handle this stress is valuable, even when you’re not dealing with bullying.
Be an active listener.
Sometimes kids may not say things directly—they may talk around an issue or tell you it’s not so bad. Listen to what they are not saying. Ask questions to help gifted kids uncover their deeper concerns and listen to other students. Find out if a child is hiding painful events. This doesn’t mean that every gifted child is suspect or in crisis. Listen for fear in a student’s voice and watch for behavioral or emotional changes. These could be signs of stress.
Be an advocate.
Before a gifted child becomes a target of bullying, we need adults to be solid advocates for anti-bullying approaches. Learn to recognize the signs of bullying, understand the power struggles involved in bullying, and know what to do and how to report bullying. Teach your parents these same signs and techniques. Those who bully will also need help. Learn what to do for them as well.
Be a resource.
Teachers need to have solid awareness and knowledge about bullying, victimization, and abuse, and they need resources to deal with these issues. Two great resources are KidsHealth (with sections specifically for kids, teens, and parents) and HelpGuide (produced in collaboration with Harvard Health Publications).
Be a supporter.
Gifted students need adults who can support them and guide them through the sometimes-chaotic world of school. The inherent sensitivities of gifted students may disadvantage them socially, especially during adolescence. When peer hierarchies begin to form, it can be difficult for gifted students to find their niche. Being a supporter of gifted students’ need for a differentiated learning environment and understanding their social and emotional complexities is important. Learn more about the needs of gifted learners by visiting the websites of the National Association for Gifted Children and Supporting Emotional Needs of the Gifted. You will find a plethora of resources to help you support and guide your gifted learners in taking back their power.
Richard M. Cash, Ed.D., writes the monthly Cash in on Learning blog posts for Free Spirit Publishing. He has given hundreds of workshops, presentations, and staff development sessions throughout the United States and internationally.
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- The 6Rs of Bullying Prevention: Best Proven Practices to Combat Cruelty and Build Respect
- When Gifted Kids Don’t Have All the Answers: How to Meet Their Social and Emotional Needs
- The Survival Guide for Gifted Kids: For Ages 10 & Under
- The Gifted Teen Survival Guide: Smart, Sharp, and Ready for (Almost) Anything